March 31, 2010
Race the major issue during Mayor Dickert's first 'Community Conversation' (with video)
About 60 people attended Mayor John Dickert's first "Community Conversation" Wednesday night at the Tyler-Domer Community Center.
Dickert seemed a little disappointed in the turnout, saying at one point that he'd hoped to attract between 200 and 300 people. The crowd was largely filled with familiar faces in the city's political scene. Several city officials, aldermen and community organization representatives were in attendance.
Circuit Court Judge candidate Georgia Herrera was there and received a nice acknowledgement from a Hispanic member of the audience. Racine Unified Superintendent James Shaw also attended the meeting. Neither Herrera or Shaw spoke publicly.
The 90-minute meeting included several displays by community organizations, a presentation by Dickert and then questions from the audience. The mayor initially took submitted questions, which included questions about city spending, the city's community center and extending I-794 into Racine County.
Dickert used the questions to talk broadly about how the city evaluates programs and its spending decisions and the need for the community to work together to solve problems.
"We're either going to get better or continue on the path we're on, which, in my opinion, is unacceptable," Dickert said.
The forum turned a little confrontational when the mayor opened up the floor to questions. Five speakers addressed Dickert on race. Three people said the city needs to do a better job of listening to and working with minorities.
Alphonso Gardner brought the most pointed attack against the mayor, saying the city wanted to give land away to a white business owner with a criminal record, but refused to allow an African-American businessman with no criminal record the opportunity to buy land to develop.
Gardner's accusations involve Jeremy Bloom, the owner of Treasures Media, and Brent Oglesby, who wanted to build a mixed-use development on State Street near the proposed KRM commuter rail station.
Dickert responded with a strong defense of Bloom, saying he had atoned for the mistakes in his past. The mayor noted Bloom hires ex-criminals to work at his growing business, and that the only reason he couldn't build a new plant in the Southside Industrial Park is because he expanded too quickly.
Oglesby, meanwhile, wanted to buy land near the transit station that wasn't for sale, Dickert said.
Jameel Ghuari, who is running for the City Council, followed up Gardner's question by asking about city claims there was a moratorium on the property. Dickert said four other developers had asked to buy the land, and the city told them no.
Maria Morales asked the mayor to create a safe place for local Hispanics to approach Racine police when they're in trouble. The mayor said it was a good idea.
Dickert will hold a similar meeting from 5:30-7 p.m. on Thursday, April 8, at the MLK Community Center.
Here's some video from the forum: